NBC News and news services
updated 6/30/2011 3:35:28 PM ET 2011-06-30T19:35:28

The Justice Department inquiry into CIA interrogations of terrorist detainees has led to a full criminal investigation into the deaths of two people while they were in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday.

The attorney general said that he accepted the recommendation of a federal prosecutor, John Durham, who since August, 2009, has conducted an into CIA interrogation practices during the Bush administration. Holder said Durham looked at the treatment of 101 detainees in U.S. custody since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and concluded that only these two deaths required criminal investigation.

Holder did not identify the two death cases. But former and current U.S. officials who requested anonymity said Durham was looking at the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi.

Rahman died in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002 after being shackled to a cold cement wall in a secret CIA prison in northern Kabul, Afghanistan, known as the Salt Pit. He was suspected of links to al-Qaida.

Al-Jamadi died in 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The death has been known to the public for years and a military autopsy declared al-Jamadi's death a homicide.

"As I noted at the time I announced the expansion of Mr. Durham's authority,The men and women in our intelligence community perform an incredibly important service to our nation, and they often do so under difficult and dangerous circumstances. They deserve our respect and gratitude for the work they do," Holder said.

The announcement means the Justice Department will drop criminal investigations of most CIA officials who participated in the harsh interrogations, which critics say amounted to torture.

Related story: Petraeus confirmed as CIA chief

Outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta said he welcomed the news "that the broader inquiries are behind us.

"We are now finally about to close this chapter of our Agency's history. As director, I have always believed that our primary responsibility is not to the past, but to the present and future threats to the nation," Panetta said in a statement.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to confirm Gen. David Petraeus to be the new CIA director.

Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Panetta, who is leaving the CIA to become Pentagon chief. Petraeus is expected to start his new job in September

The Associated Press and NBC's Pete Williams contributed to this story.

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